The Gyanvapi masjid in Varanasi. Photo: PTI.

New Delhi: A court in Uttar Pradesh’s Varanasi on Thursday, May 12, has said that the survey of the Gyanvapi mosque, located near the Kashi Vishwanath temple, will continue despite objections from mosque authorities.

Setting the final date for the report on the survey to be submitted as May 17, the court appointed two additional advocate commissioners to oversee the inspection and decided not to replace the present advocate general, as was being demanded by the mosque authorities.

The Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991, says the religious character of place of worship will continue as it existed on on August 15, 1947, and:

“No person shall convert any place of worship of any religious denomination or any section thereof into a place of worship of a different section of the same religious denomination or of a different religious denomination or any section thereof.”

The same act says “conversion, with its grammatical variations, includes alteration or change of whatever nature.”

The only exception in this law was for the “Babri Masjid/Ram Janam Bhoomi’ dispute in Ayodhya.

Though the 1991 Act bars the jurisdiction of courts in any matter involving the conversion of a place of worship from one religion to another, five Hindu women had submitted a petition to the Varanasi court seeking year-round access to what they said was the Maa Shringar Gauri shrine located behind the western wall of the mosque complex.

In response, the court in April had ordered an inspection of the mosque premises, to be headed by advocate commissioner Ajay Kumar Mishra. It had ordered for a report to be submitted by May 10.

The Anjuman Intezamia Masjid committee had moved the Allahabad high court challenging the Varanasi court’s order, but on April 21, their petition was denied.

On April 26, the local court ordered for a video to be recorded of the disputed site and after that, the inspection began on May 6, amidst heavy security.

However, there were many objections to videography inside the mosque premises. Thereafter, the Masjid committee filed an application before the court seeking the replacement of Mishra as the advocate commissioner leading the survey, alleging bias in favour of the petitioners.

The court’s recent verdict did not call for Mishra’s replacement, however, it did appoint two additional advocate commissioners – Ajay Singh and Vishal Singh – to assist in undertaking the survey, the Indian Express reported.

The verdict also said that the video survey will proceed, despite the objections. Moreover, the court has said that the district administration should file first information reports (FIR) against any individual who obstructs the survey.

The survey will be conducted from 8 am to 12 pm everyday and a report of the exercise will have to be submitted by May 17.

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